[Interview] Isa: The Montreal Experience as a French



Wel­come to the 2013 edi­tion of “Ten Immi­grants, Ten Inter­views!” In this series, we will explore the moti­va­tions of ten prospec­tive immi­grants and new­com­ers to Canada. You can find the two pre­vi­ous series here: Ten Immi­grants, Ten Inter­views (2010) and Ten More Immi­grants For Ten More Inter­views (2011).

Isa is French and lives in Lyon with her part­ner. A life­long lover of all North Amer­i­can things, she lived in Mon­tréal for seven months in 2010, a city she fell in love with.

Isa decided to go back to France at the end of her visa for sev­eral rea­sons, and she is still toy­ing with the idea to come back to Canada in the future. Mean­while, she has great mem­o­ries of Mon­tréal, the city she called home for seven months, and she is shar­ing her expe­ri­ence with us.

You can find great pic­tures and travel-related arti­cles on her blog, Let’s Go, or fol­low her on Twit­ter.

1)     Why did you decide to go to Canada?

That is THE tricky ques­tion! I’m not going to say “once upon a time, there was a lit­tle girl who was dream­ing of North Amer­ica…” but that could be close to it. When I was a kid, I read all those great sto­ries about the gold rush, Jack London’s Yukon, the vam­pires in Louisiana, Scrooge McDuck sail­ing on the Mis­sis­sippi river… They made me dream about Canada and the US.

In 2005, I was 18 and I dis­cov­ered all the great indie music from Mon­tréal. At the time, I really wanted to expe­ri­ence what seemed to be a great city to live in. I met a friend who had been liv­ing there for 10 years. I saved money for 3 years and finally booked my plane tick­ets to visit not only Mon­tréal, but Ver­mont, Maine, Cal­i­for­nia and Utah. My very first time out­side the Euro­pean continent!

And I fell in love with Mon­tréal. As sim­ple as that.

2)     Did you find the visa process dif­fi­cult? Which visa cat­e­gory did you apply in, and how long did it take for you to get it?

I have quite a com­pli­cated immi­gra­tion process story. In 2008, my part­ner and I tried to get per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus through the Que­bec immi­gra­tion pro­gram. We got to the inter­view stage for the CSQ but I got really sick and I had no idea if I was going to ever get bet­ter one day. For­tu­nately, I did, but we decided it wasn’t the right time for us to leave for a long time in a for­eign coun­try. Québec is cool, but not that great when it comes to the health care system.

We only com­pleted the CSQ part of the PR appli­ca­tion. It’s not that com­pli­cated if you’ve got all the needed forms and papers but it can be tedious. Nowa­days, it’s even more com­pli­cated with all the lan­guage tests. It also takes much longer to have your appli­ca­tion processed, (both for the provin­cial part and for the fed­eral part, the sto­ries of the “Oubliés de Buf­falo” are pretty scary).

In 2010 I applied for an intern­ship visa, through the Youth Mobil­ity Pro­gram. It only took ten days to get the visa!

3)     What is one thing you learn/adopt in Canada and brought home?

My intern­ship in Mon­tréal was my first “real” job. It was hard on me because even though I was very famil­iar with the Que­bec cul­ture, I was still in a for­eign land, far from home, with social codes I didn’t mas­ter and some­times didn’t understand.

My first day was really scary. After a few weeks, I real­ized that I could do it, that I was effi­cient and that I loved it! This expe­ri­ence taught me self-confidence: if I can do it here, I could do it any­where. Québé­cois (and North Amer­i­cans in gen­eral) are socia­ble, friendly and infor­mal when you first meet them. I brought that home!

4)     Where did you learn English?

Con­trary to the pop­u­lar belief, I received good for­eign lan­guages train­ing at school in France. The clas­si­cal argu­ment “I learned Eng­lish for 10 years and I still can’t speak it, so national edu­ca­tion sucks!” both­ers me a lot. I stud­ied maths for God-knows-how-long and I still count on my fin­gers! You just have to be pas­sion­ate, that’s all.

I learned all the basis at school, I enjoyed read­ing in Eng­lish occa­sion­ally and it prompted my inter­est in North Amer­i­can civil­i­sa­tion and his­tory. Later, at uni­ver­sity, I decided I wanted to com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter in Eng­lish so I started lis­ten­ing to audio-books, watch­ing lots of TV shows with­out sub­ti­tles (if you use them you won’t pay atten­tion to the dia­logues, you’ll just keep read­ing instead of lis­ten­ing!), I read a lot (books or blogs). I joined sev­eral music forums that helped me with my writ­ing (I wrote posts and com­mu­ni­cated with English-speaking peo­ple every day!). My Eng­lish is far from being per­fect, it will never be, but I keep on learning!

As for Canada goes, as I were liv­ing in Québec, I didn’t speak any Eng­lish for 7 months. Even a big mixed city like Mon­tréal isn’t the best place to learn Eng­lish. There are a few English-speaking com­mu­ni­ties (in the Mile End and the West of the city) but it’s not the des­ti­na­tion to pick if you want to improve your English.

5)     How do you find the cost of liv­ing com­pared to France?

I’m from Lyon, which might be one of the most expen­sive French cities out­side Paris. I found Mon­tréal very expen­sive. It’s true that hous­ing is less expen­sive than in big French cities in gen­eral (though it’s less and less true) but the cost of liv­ing: gro­ceries, inter­net, phone, cin­ema, pub­lic trans­porta­tion was crazy to me. And we weren’t buy­ing any expen­sive French cheese or wine! We were using local prod­ucts. I know it’s not a very pop­u­lar opin­ion, but eat­ing well was expen­sive. It’s true that in Lyon we are very lucky, it’s a huge agri­cul­tural region so we’ve got every­thing local for noth­ing, but still!

6)     What was your biggest cul­ture shock?

I think it was the food. Not because North-Americans eat other spe­cial­ties: I love Québec and regional North Amer­i­can food! I love me some good ham­burger too! But I’m talk­ing about processed food. I knew it would be very dif­fer­ent (I stud­ied it), but I wouldn’t have thought it was that bad: enriched flour (and enriched about any­thing), GMOs, when you buy fresh steak at the super­mar­ket, it can be mixed with frozen steak… Stuff like that that was hard to han­dle for a foodie like me. Everything’s more salty, sweet, processed… We were only there for 7 months so I was OK with it, and we cooked a lot but I found it dif­fi­cult to find cheap good raw products.

7)     What aspect of life in Canada did you adopt right away?

Still the food! I dis­cov­ered, just in our neigh­bor­hood (Petite Patrie — Petite Italie), the best Latin Amer­i­can and Asian food! We don’t have that much choice in eth­nic food  in Lyon. Now I’m always crav­ing good sushis, faji­tas or gua­camole! I’m cook­ing way more “inter­na­tional”, now.

I feel more relaxed too. I found Mon­treal­ers “relaxed” (though when I dis­cov­ered some other Cana­dian cities like Toronto, I’d say Mon­treal­ers are closer to Euro­peans, espe­cially when it comes to dri­ving!) and so I tried to adopt a less stress­ful way of life.

8)     What’s one thing you didn’t like in Canada?

I’m only speak­ing for Mon­tréal but I’d say the health­care sys­tem. The lack of doc­tors and spe­cial­ists. I had to go to the hos­pi­tal once and it was just crazy. I’m very happy to live in France when it comes to the health care system.

I didn’t like is ViaRail, the train com­pany, either. Most Amer­i­cans say that Amtrak isn’t effi­cient at all but man, they should try to take a ViaRail train and it will put things in per­spec­tive for them! The pub­lic trans­porta­tion in gen­eral, both through the coun­try and in the cities is defi­cient, even in Mon­tréal which is sup­posed to be one of the best in North America.

9)     What was the best part about liv­ing in Montréal?

In Mon­tréal, you feel free. I felt free to dress the way I wanted to, to walk in the street at night with­out feel­ing threat­ened.  The city is incred­i­ble when it comes to cul­ture and music. You’ve got 10 great shows each night of the week, you’ve got a ton of good fes­ti­vals through­out the year, you’ve got great local beers and cafés, you’ve got great food and restau­rants. All the neigh­bor­hoods have trees, gar­dens, squares, parks. You’ve got very dif­fer­ent peo­ple, from the whole world. Mon­tréal is very beau­ti­ful I think, one of the most beau­ti­ful North Amer­i­can cities. It’s full of life, it’s dynamic, it’s close to my beloved Ver­mont. It felt “easy” to live there.

The best moment of the year is when the snow is start­ing to melt, you have the feel­ing the city is a per­son com­ing back to life: everyone’s going out­side, it’s sunny, the kids play in the back­streets, you’ve got lots of dif­fer­ent kind of birds singing again… The band Arcade Fire would explain it bet­ter than me in their song “Month of May”. “Month of May, it’s a vio­lent thing, In the city their hearts start to sing, Well, some peo­ple singing sounds like scream­ing, Used to doubt it but now I believe it”

That was an incred­i­ble feel­ing, one of the most pow­er­ful I have ever experienced!

10)  What advice would you give to some­one start­ing the immi­gra­tion process?

Gather infor­ma­tion, a loooot of infor­ma­tion! If you’re French speak­ing, I can only rec­om­mend the web­site that helped me the most:  www.PVTistes.net (now I’m proud to be part of the team!) and read lots of immi­grant blogs.

Don’t think Canada is an Eldo­rado because it really isn’t. I think it’s an incred­i­ble place to live, and I’ll go back any day, but it’s not per­fect. Before get­ting into a com­pli­cated immi­gra­tion process, take a two-week trip and you’ll prob­a­bly end up falling in love with the coun­try. Though, keep in mind that when you’re a tourist, you tend to find every­thing new and beautiful.

You could still do an intern­ship, apply for a work visa or a Work­ing Hol­i­day Visa. It is way less expen­sive than going through the per­ma­nent res­i­dence process and it is a good way to dis­cover the coun­try before you decide whether you want to set­tle there “for good”.

Immi­grat­ing is hard, not only because of the cul­tural dif­fer­ences but because you will leave a whole life behind you. Your friends and fam­ily will con­tinue their life with­out you in it every day (even if it’s eas­ier now with Skype and mails, it’s still not easy to admit!).

Most impor­tantly: if you decide to go through the immi­gra­tion process, that doesn’t mean you have to stay in Canada your whole life, you don’t need that pres­sure. Go there, live there a few years, then you can always come back to your home coun­try for a cou­ple of years, and then go back… That’s what I ended up doing!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. AH AH AH your inter­view looks a lot like mine :) *copine* I am amazed that you found out all this in just 7 months in Mtl. Usu­ally, for French immi­grants, the hon­ey­moon last 2 years I’d say, before real­iz­ing that Que­bec is not the par­adise they thought. Well done :)

  2. Great inter­view! I feels like you’ve been here for ages! It’s so true about the food, I’m so amazed at all the crap they put into it.
    Are you com­ing back to Montréal ?

    • Thank you! I don’t think I’ll ever live in Québec one day, we’re going to pick another city for our com­ing working-holiday visa… I want to dis­cover new things… And Mon­tréal did change a lot in 4 years, and not nec­es­sary for the best :(

        • Haha thanks! Yes I like it here. I met my Cana­dian part­ner here and I am most likely going to stay. That does not mean I don’t suf­fer from the occa­sional homesickness/culture shock, even after all this time! I like your blog and feel like our sto­ries are some­what sim­i­lar. I’ve also spent most of my adult life in Canada… (Came here for uni­ver­sity at 18). Con­grat­u­la­tions on your sweet baby!

          • You have a cool story, and yes, in a way our back­ground are quite sim­i­lar. Thank you for the baby praise! 😉

            Does your part­ner speak French?

          • Yes, my part­ner is Québé­cois, which is funny because the rest of my expe­ri­ence in Mon­tréal is quite anglo­phone (I study at McGill). Meet­ing him allowed me to under­stand Que­bec a lot better.

          • It’s inter­est­ing to expe­ri­ence both sides of the coun­try, the French and the Eng­lish side :-)

  3. Yes, I def­i­nitely agree with what Isa says about processed food in Canada — it really is every­where. It’s part of the rea­son why I know Cana­di­ans have so many prob­lems with keep­ing their weight down. This is only one of many neg­a­tive points that French peo­ple should be made aware of when immi­grat­ing to Québec and Canada.

    I think a lot of French peo­ple can see them­selves in Isa. A lot of them are young and they are keen and eager to work and live in Québec after hav­ing heard sound great things about Canada from their friends and the media. It’s amaz­ing how much the French media talks about immi­gra­tion to Canada, only talk­ing about the good things and never men­tion­ing the pit­falls. That’s why this inter­view was so great.

    So thanks for the hon­est and eye-opening inter­view Zhu and Isa.

    • Well thank you for your com­ment!
      It is crazy how the jour­nal­ists are basi­cally “sell­ing” the Québec Eldo­rado to young frenchies… Only few of them are really telling the truth about immi­gra­tion (wher­ever you go, IT IS hard), and even less about Québec. I see it as a trend. Soon, the medias will find another Eldo­rado, China maybe.
      The Québec gov­ern­ment do need those young and edu­cated french-speaking immi­grants and is work­ing hard on mak­ing them set­tle in Québec but with­out “fol­low­ing” them prop­erly, with­out help­ing them set­tle, and most impor­tantly, help­ing them stay. That’s my opin­ion, at least!

      • I don’t really under­stand this Que­bec craze in French to be hon­est… sounds like a hard sell. I wish a lit­tle bit empha­sis would be put in Canada as a coun­try, I’m tired of hear­ing French peo­ple crit­i­ciz­ing the rest of the coun­try even though they don’t know it, cause you know, “Que­bec is best”.

        • I’ve never met those immi­grants (for­tu­nately!). Maybe they just want to blend in, as most Que­be­quois are nation­al­ists :) (that is another debate, way too com­pli­cated to be under­stood from a for­eign country!)

          • That’s another thing that dri­ves me crazy… French who have never set a foot in Que­bec (or any­where in Canada!) but blindly sup­port the Sou­verain­ist move­ment. The issue is com­pli­cated, folks, it’s not just “good Que­bec peo­ple” vs. “bad Eng­lish people”!

    • It’s such a mul­ti­cul­tural place…! I know it but inter­view­ing peo­ple from so many walks of life make it even more obvious.

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